Pictured: Jackie Adams, Brice Glasscock, Tracey Wall, Kristen Rose and Susan Shelton

Kristen Rose was barely a teenager when she was first introduced to drugs and alcohol. Influenced by her older friends, she viewed substances as temporary Band-Aids for her personal feelings of emptiness and fragility. Substances made her problems disappear, if only for a few moments.

It didn’t take long for her naïve interest to transform into dependence.

As Rose grew older and developed a substance use disorder (SUD), she woke up every morning with one task on her mind — getting more substances, even if it meant breaking the law.

“My life encompassed it,” she said. “I eventually dropped out of school and dedicated my life to getting high and drunk. I didn’t perceive it as a problem at the time. I was young and I didn’t know what addiction was. I just thought I was having fun. I wanted to feel good.”

It never occurred to Rose that she was struggling with an illness until a year out from adulthood. At 17, Rose’s mother entered her into a detox and rehabilitation facility, where she got her first glimpse into recovery.

“I didn’t perceive it as a problem at the time. I was young and I didn’t know what addiction was. I just thought I was having fun. I wanted to feel good.”

Kristen Rose

Fighting for recovery

Rose hadn’t realized there were other people like her until that first rehabilitation program. During meetings, her peers shared stories of how they got to their points of desperation, and for the first time, Rose didn’t feel alone. She also saw what her life could evolve into if she continued down the same path.

“Going to community meetings and seeking treatment was a pivotal moment of clarity for my addiction,” she said. “We were healing together. I compared my experiences to others in my group and saw similarities. None of us wanted to die from our SUDs. We just wanted to be OK and were seeking solutions to our problems in the wrong way.”

Over the next two years, Rose learned and grew through her recovery program, rejecting the habits she developed in her teenage years. She became attentive to the tiny details in her life that took a back seat when her SUD came first — like paying bills, doing chores and caring for her personal hygiene.

At 19, Rose stopped using substances. Life was clear, vibrant and different — but in the best way. For five years, she was hopeful in her recovery. Then, as most people with SUDs do, she experienced her first relapse.

A wake-up call

During her five years in recovery, Rose practiced the mantras, habits and routines she learned while in her rehabilitation program. She incorporated them into her daily life and worked on them every day.

“You work on your addiction every day, so you have to work on your recovery every day.”

Kristen Rose

At 24, Rose began to feel like she had total control of her disorder. So, she stopped practicing recovery tasks on her daily to-do list. She halted association with her recovering friends and peers. She started drinking and recreationally using drugs again in a way she perceived as “normal.”

Recovering life slowly slipped away with every habit that became unlearned.

“You work on your addiction every day, so you have to work on your recovery every day,” she said. “I stopped. I allowed myself to relapse.”

For two years, Rose continued to use substances as temporary fixes for her problems. Then, one morning, she received a call about her father. He was dying from liver failure from alcohol use. She flew to Phoenix, Ariz., to say her goodbyes.

“It was traumatic,” Rose said. “It’s in those moments, when terrible things happen to your loved ones, you have a spiritual moment. I realized this could be me one day. Watching my father die from the very same disease I have opened my eyes. I had an opportunity to turn my life around. He didn’t.”

Despite knowing it would be a hard restart, Rose dove into the recovery process again. It felt more difficult this time around. The problems she had when she first went through recovery at 19 were different than at 27. But she persevered and never lost sight of what was important to her — her two children and her loved ones.

“All recovery looks different for everyone,” Rose said. “After my dad passed, I felt like I had a purpose on this earth that I needed to figure out, and it wasn’t me getting high.”

A change in perception

When Rose struggled with her SUD, she didn’t believe she was worth recovery. Stigma within the community made her feel that way.

“I cared about how others thought about me while I was going through it,” she said. “I’d hear people say things like, ‘She’s nothing but a junkie, who cares if she overdoses?’ You’d be surprised at how often we hear community members saying things like that, and we start to believe it.”

“I thought something was morally wrong with me for the longest time, and it solidified my lack of self-worth,” she sighed. “It was painful to be in my own skin.”

Community empathy is necessary to ensure struggling individuals can access resources before their illness kills them first. People aren’t born wanting a life of homelessness and addiction; they stumble upon it trying to find desperate solutions for their immediate problems.

“There is a lack of support because of a lack of understanding,” Rose explained. “I wish more people in our community knew addiction is an illness that occurs in the mind, body and spirit and destroys everything in us as human beings. We need resources to rebuild those things in our life. We need compassion and understanding. Our illness has nothing to do with who we are, but what’s going on inside of us. Recovery is possible.”

The way the community talks about substance use disorders can also change the way those who are struggling look at themselves. There is no benefit in dehumanizing those with SUDs; only fewer opportunities for recovery. Rose felt fortunate to have a strong support system in her family and recovering friends. There was never any judgment. Just support.

“I felt like community members around me were always judging me, but I was lucky to have close ones who treated me like I was sick instead of a horrible person,” she said. “They impacted my life and lifted me up. We need that encouragement for everybody. Most of the time, we don’t see value in the world anymore, and our supporters see value in us first before we see it in ourselves.”

Kristen and her daughter on their Green River trip.

Moving forward

Rose’s life today is different, but in the best way. She’s a homeowner and mother to two beautiful children. She recently got back from a paddle boarding trip down the Green River with her daughter — a memory she’ll cherish forever.

“We have everything we need and most of what we want,” Rose said. “These are accomplishments and moments I never imagined were possible for me.”

Rose’s career also has taken off. She spends her days serving others as a Peer Support Specialist at Providence Recovery in Craig. She finds peace, serenity and wholeness in helping others through what feels like the darkest points in her life.

Her past experiences allow her to make positive impacts on her community today. She hopes her story can allow others to do the same.

“Today, I’m a free person,” she concluded. “I show up to life and participate in it. I experience ultimate happiness, and I don’t let the bad things that happen in my life affect my sobriety anymore. I practice radical acceptance in my life — changing what I can and leaving the rest.”